There are many, many great meads out there for you to buy and drink at your leisure, but there is nothing quite like making mead in your own home and the pride that goes with it. And because mead is so simple at its core—it’s essentially just honey, water, and yeast—it is perfectly suited to being made at home.
Just because the ingredients are simple, it doesn’t mean that making a good mead is simple too. We don’t recommend that you just throw a few pounds of honey in a bucket with some water and yeast and hope for the best. Sure, you’ll probably end up with something mead-ish at the end of the day, but our Viking ancestors would want us to aim a little higher.
In our epic guide, we’ll show you how to make a homemade mead that is not only better than mead-ish, but is something that you’ll actually be proud of, one that you wouldn't mind sharing with your loved ones (assuming you don’t keep it all to yourself). This guide also includes tips from the pros that will help make your first time a success, and will keep you coming back for more.
Mead is as varied as the styles of Viking helmets. Beyond traditional meads (aka "Show Meads"), there are sack meads, cysers, pyments, melomels, metheglins, braggots, and many more - more than 50+ at last count!
This guide will cover the process for making with a solid traditional mead, meaning just honey and water with no fruit or spice additives. We will also stick with a middle of the road in terms of sweetness — neither too dry nor too sweet.
To make a standard five gallon batch of traditional mead (which yields about 25 standard wine bottles) here are the ingredients you will need to gather:
Before you get started mixing your ingredients together, you will also need to gather some necessary equipment. Most of the equipment listed below can be found at your local home-brewing store (if you’re lucky enough to live near one), or at your local hardware store. Or if you have trouble finding something, you can always order it online, or through the links on our guide (FYI - we do collect a small referral fee from Amazon if you purchase through these links. We've used everything we recommend and the purchase will be at no cost to you.)
To reiterate: everything listed is assuming a 5-gallon batch of mead...
6.5 gallon mixing bucket and lid. While you can find these anywhere, the best mixing buckets are the graduated variety, meaning they have markings showing gallon and half gallon fill levels.
Note: The lid comes pre-drilled and with a grommet/seal to accommodate the air-lock valve, just in case you ever want to use the bucket as a fermenting vessel.
Five gallon glass carboys (Qty. 2). We recommend getting (2) 5-gallon carboys for this guide. You can get away with doing the primary fermentation in your mixing bucket, but we prefer actually seeing what's going on in our primary vessel, Plus it makes it much easier to introduce necessary oxygen into the must when transferring the must from your bucket to your carboy.
Carboy handle. This handy little device connects around the top of your glass carboy and gives you a way to get a firm grip on your carboy so you can move it. It’s a big help when dealing with a full carboy, which can weigh upwards of 50 to 55 pounds.
Fermentation lock / Air lock. These fit in the top of your glass carboy and allow carbon dioxide to escape from your carboy while preventing bacteria from coming in. They make a couple of different varieties. We think the 3 piece is a bit more robust, and easier to keep clean.
Rubber Stoppers. The bungs will fit into the tops of your carboy to fit your air lock, helping to get the seal airtight. 6.5 gallon carboys take a #6.5 Stopper size, make sure yours is pre-drilled to fit your fermentation lock (some airlocks come with the stoppers included).
Mixing spoon / paddle. Any type of mixing instrument will do here, although authentic Viking ship oars and axes tend to result in the best flavors.
Funnel. You'll need a funnel to transfer liquids between the mixing bucket and the glass carboy. Get a big one!
Hydrometer. This handy gadget looks like a floating thermometer, but instead of measuring temperature it measures how much sugar is dissolved in the must. The amount of dissolved sugar can in turn be used to determine the alcohol content of your mead (more on this below). Most hydrometers designed for wine making or brewing will include three different scales: original gravity, Balling, and Brix. Each of these scales measures the same thing (dissolved sugar), albeit with different numbers. We use specific gravity here, and most hydrometers will show specific gravity readings from around 0.990 to around 1.160.
Thermometer. Any liquid-compatible thermometer will do here. You will be taking the temperature of the honey-water mix to calibrate your specific gravity readings, and to make sure the its within the temperature range that your yeast can handle before you pitch it.
Sanitizing solution. There are many great food-grade sanitizers out there for you to choose from, although we typically recommend Star San, which is a no-rinse acid-based sanitizer. 1 ounce treats 5 gallons of water,
Racking cane and plastic tubing. A racking cane is simply a cane-shaped hard plastic tube that is adapted to connect to plastic tubing. You will be using this combo to transfer liquids from carboy to carboy.
Wine bottles. These are easy to come by. We like to use clear bottles, since they tend to show off the color the mead. You will need about 25 standard 750 mL wine bottles for your five-gallon batch (about five 750 mL bottles per gallon).
Auto-filler. This name of this device makes it sound more complicated than it is. An auto filler hooks onto the other end of your plastic tubing and has a device on the end that is either spring- or gravity-activated and helps control the flow of liquid and make bottle filling easier.
Corks. There are several different types of corks, which vary based on diameters and length. For our purposes, you'll want to get straight corks. As a rule of thumb, the thicker and longer the cork, the longer your mead will last. We recommend that you use a #9 x 1-1/2" to 1-3/4” cork, which is more than sufficient to keep your mead for more than 18 months.
"Make sure you buy more corks than you need for your batch. During the corking process you can expect a few of the corks to fail to go into the bottle property, so you’ll want some extra corks on hand."
Corker. These come in hand-held, table-top, and floor-mounted versions (in increasing order of expense). Although they're a bit more expensive and tend to take up more space, a floor corker is generally worth it if you can get away with it. They keep your bottles much more stable during the corking process, especially for longer and thicker corks.
Pen and notebook. One of the most important items on this list, and easily overlooked! You will definitely want to keep a log for your mead so that you can help your future self with any tips and tricks (and things to avoid!) for when you make your next batch of mead. Your log will also serve as a helpful reminder for how each step went and as a record of any readings that you took during the mead-making process.
Now that you have your ingredients and equipment, the first step in making your own mead is to prepare the “must” (the mixture of honey and water), and to add the yeast to your must—a process called “pitching.” After that, the yeast will slowly turn the must into liquid gold over the course of several weeks.
You will want to give yourself plenty of time (at least a couple of hours) for this initial step in the mead-making process. Most of that time will be getting the yeast ready and making sure that everything is clean and sanitized before you start mixing.
For this step, you’ll need all your ingredients and the following equipment & ingredients:
Pro Tip: Warm your honey
"Before you do anything, fill your sink or a pot with hot water from your faucet and place your honey (still in the containers) in the hot water. As the honey warms up, it will flow better, thereby making it easier for you to get the honey out of its container and into the mixing bucket."
Once you’ve gathered up the supplies, here’s what you’ll need to do.
If you haven’t already, now would be a good time to make sure your hydrometer is properly calibrated and providing correct readings. Hydrometers are calibrated to be used at a particular temperature, usually 68 °F/20 °C.
In pure water at the calibration temperature, your hydrometer should give a specific gravity reading of 1.000. If the temperature of the liquid is higher or lower you will need to apply a quick conversion to the specific gravity reading of your hydrometer (adjusting the reading higher if the temperature is higher, and lower if the temperature lower). Your hydrometer should come with a conversion chart; otherwise there are plenty of online tables you can use to convert your reading according to the temperature.
To check the calibration of your hydrometer, first use your thermometer to check the temperature of the water, and make note of the temperature in your notebook. Then simply drop the hydrometer in the water and check the specific gravity reading at the water level (you may want to give the hydrometer a quick spin to shake off any bubbles that might throw off your reading).
Make any necessary conversions based on temperature and then jot this information down in your notebook—if there’s any deviation then you’ll want to add/subtract the amount to future specific gravity readings.
Pro Tip: Clean up
"Before you crack open a cold one and kick back to relax, be sure to rinse and clean all the equipment you used – your future-self will thank you. Trust us, there’s nothing fun about trying to scrape month-old or year-old honey residue from your valuable equipment."
That’s it for now! Within 18 to 24 hours you should start to see activity in your carboy as the yeast multiply and begin to convert sugar into alcohol. After 48 hours, the air lock should be bubbling every 2 to 3 seconds, indicating the fermentation process is underway and is transforming your must into a delicious mead.
We recommend checking on your mead every day or two and noting the current status of the yeast activity (e.g., 1 bubble every 2 seconds) or changes in the color of the mead. This log will help you to understand what to expect and when in future batches, and will also alert you to any possible issues (such as a stuck fermentation process).
After around 3 weeks, the primary fermentation process will slow down in the carboy. This slow down will be marked by a reduction in the speed of bubbles appearing in the air lock to about 1 bubble every 30 seconds or so. You will also notice that the mead in the upper part of the carboy is a lighter color than the bottom part, as the yeast and any particulates in the mead start to settle at bottom of the carboy.
At this point, you will need to transfer the must off the sediment that has collected at the bottom carboy, since the sediment includes dead and dormant yeast cells and other particles that could start to impart undesired flavors if left in contact with the must. Unlike the first step in the mead-making process, during the racking process you’ll want to keep any agitation of the must to a minimum in order to avoid adding any more oxygen into the must.
For this step, you’ll need the following equipment:
With the equipment ready for use, follow the steps below to transfer your must into the second carboy so it can continue its secondary fermentation:
Pro Tip: Stir the sediment
"Before you start to rack your mead, use the racking cane to give the must a good, but slow, circular stir until the must starts to rotate, wait for it to settle again and start the transfer —this action will help to move sediment to the edges of the bottom of the carboy and will create a relatively sediment-free zone in the middle."
Now that the must has been transferred off the sediment from the first carboy, it can wrap up any residual fermentation and then rest and clear in peace.
Congratulations, you're finished for now. Take a deep breath, and compose yourself.
After another week or two, any yeast activity should cease altogether. And after another month the must should become clear. Now that the yeast has done its work and the must (now mead, really) is completely clear, it is ready for bottling.
Note that if the must is still active and cloudy at this point, or if you find another thick layer of sediment growing on the bottom of the carboy, you will want to repeat Step 2 and re-rack the must to further aid in clarification.
For the bottling step you will need the following equipment: Racking cane and plastic tubing, wine bottles, auto-filler, corks, corker, hydrometer, thermometer, and sanitizing solution. Now here’s what you’ll have to do for the final step in your mead-making process:
For the racking steps you’ll need the following equipment:
Once again, sanitize everything that will be coming in contact with the mead, including any surfaces you’ll be working on.
Pro Tip: Sanitize them bottles!
"A quick and easy way to sanitize and dry a large batch of wine bottles at once (assuming they’ve already been rinsed thoroughly beforehand) is to just run them through your dishwasher on the rinse and dry setting with no detergent added."
After the bottles have been filled, use your corker to insert the corks into each bottle. This is often the toughest part of the process, as forcing the cork into the bottle requires a good deal of strength and coordination. Hopefully it should be a quick, painless, and triumphant operation. However, unless you’ve the strength of Odin, you can’t just plunge the cork into your bottle with your thumb. Corking your mead takes a little mechanical assistance, which you’ll get in the form a corker.
While there’s a bunch of styles of corker on the market today, they all fit into two main categories; hand corkers and floor / bench corkers. Let’s take a look at each:
Hand corkers are going to be less expensive than floor corkers, and take a little more finesse, practice, and effort to use properly. Hand corkers are a good economical choice for the mead maker planning to produce less than 5 gallons (~25 bottles) of mead a year. They do take a bit to get used to, so don’t get frustrated if you end up with a couple of broken bottles or a cork sticking halfway in the neck while you learn the nuances of the tool.
Soaking Your Cork
Because of the limited torque that hand corkers provide, you’ll need to use some kind of lubrication to get the cork seated in the bottle correctly. This is especially true for the tighter #9 corks we recommend using.
For this, we take notes from mead-maestro Ken Schramm, author of the seminal mead book “The Compleat Mead Maker” who recommends soaking your corks in a gallon of water treated with 2 campdem tablets and a few drops of food-grade Glycerin.
Check out our article on Corking Your Mead for tips and tricks on stopping up your bottle with cork.
Pro Tip: Corking stabilization
"Nothing make me more angry than a broken bottle full of mead! If using a hand corker, you’ll find that one of the problems is keeping the bottle stable as you apply enough pressure to push the cork into the bottle. Often times, the bottle can slip out from under you, resulting in spills or, even worse, broken bottles. You can help stabilize the bottle by placing it in something with a little more grip – such as a beer koozie (or barring that, even a sneaker will do the trick.."
Store your mead upright for the first two weeks to allow any moisture from your corks to evaporate out. After that, store your mead on its side. This will keep the seal nice and tight during aging.
Your mead is now ready to enjoy!
For your first batch, we recommend sampling a bottle every couple of months to see how the flavor mellows and changes over time.
Guess what? You've come to the end of our mead making guide which means...You...are...done! Hooray for YOU!
Now go forth to enjoy and share the fruits of your labor.
Hopefully this provided some help on you're journey into your enjoyment of mead. Feel free to comment or send us a note if you have any questions - we would be happy to respond...
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